Why is “reader, I married him” one of the most famous lines in literature?
Taking this line as their starting point, twenty-one authors playfully
So what is it about Jane Eyre? The appeal and influence of the novel are certainly nothing new. When Charlotte Brontë’s publisher, William Smith Williams, first encountered the manuscript with which he was so entranced, he cancelled an appointment with a friend, made do with a sandwich for his supper and finished reading the whole thing before bedtime. His was to be one of many such encounters.
Jane Eyre is one of those books that get under the skin; readers remember it and authors find it lingering in their imagination, creeping into their storytelling. I’ve certainly been one of those readers carrying Jane Eyre, metaphorically speaking, in my back pocket throughout my life. From the first time I read it as a young teenager with a torch under the bedclothes (yes, really, there wasn’t much to do in South Yorkshire in the ‘80’s) I was hooked. Every time I pick up my well-thumbed, battered volume from the
Recently, The Guardian interviewed a diverse range of authors about the influence of the novel and their responses reveal its incredible staying power. It’s also evident that different readers interpret the book in radically different ways. Julie Myerson lived Jane’s own miserable childhood vicariously as a mirror of her own unhappy teenage years. Esther Freud remembered the dark, powerful love story with its
The novel is, even now, surprisingly modern, startlingly direct and unusual, still, in addressing the reader directly. Claire Harman’s excellent recent biography of Charlotte Brontë exposes just how visionary the novel was in its time, how extraordinarily personal. It remains so today; Jane reaches out from the pages, takes you by the hand and pulls you into her world as if sharing a secret.
Jane Eyre has
The bicentenary year has prompted numerous new re-imaginings of Brontë. The recently published Yuki Chan in Brontë Country, for example, is a classic mystery, taking as its setting a Japanese tourist’s visit to Haworth. But scan just briefly across bestseller lists and you’ll find that echoes of Jane are to be found everywhere. Novels like Anna Hope’s haunting The Ballroom, set in a Yorkshire asylum, carry the shades of Brontë’s own fearful imaginings of women’s madness and incarceration. In The Miniaturist, Jessie Burton gives a new twist on the haunted house trope, where a new young bride finds the secrets of her husband and his past unlocked through the home she inhabits with him, recreated in
Tracey Chevalier’s own novels owe much to Charlotte Brontë’s legacy, a debt Chevalier herself acknowledges. Girl with a Pearl Earring was, in part, such a publishing phenomenon because of the
Perhaps it is, ultimately, the narrator herself who makes the book linger in the imagination. Jane’s voice is startlingly original and confident. For Brontë’s first readers, the
"Women are supposed to be very calm generally: but women feel just as men feel; they need exercise for their faculties… it is
Reader, I Married Him appropriately enough takes as its starting point the moment where Jane Eyre (and the classic romance) ends. Tracy Chevalier points to the fact that this line sticks in the mind because it is deceptively simple, apparently final and yet cunningly, invitingly unfinished. We’re encouraged, as Chevalier says, to “fill in the blanks”, carrying on where Jane leaves off. It is a reminder that marriage (and there are several, remember) in Jane Eyre may just as well be the beginning of a story as the full stop.
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